Unicoi Outfitters is north Georgia's premier guide service and fly fishing outfitter, located on the Chattahoochee River near alpine Helen. Look for fishing reports, gear and book reviews, and general musings here from our staff and guides.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


As you can see from the illustration, our fly tying sessions are pretty simple--but we have fun and we tie basic flies that catch fish. You missed out if you didn't attend the Sept. session--Tim Ivey showed us how to tie 2 of his smallmouth patterns--thanks Tim, you did a great job and we enjoyed it. We will meet Tues., Oct. 5th at 6:00 PM at the shop in Helen. Everyone is invited.

This is a great time to learn to tie flies for the upcoming fishing season. Experienced tyers are welcome too--you can always learn something new and you can help those who are just beginning. Supplies will be provided--thanks Unicoi.

I just returned from a trip to the Southwest U.S.  I attended a Bible study/fly fishing retreat in Glorietta, N.M. and had a great time doing both thanks to Jason Cruise and all the other folks at the event. I fished the Pecos, Rio Grande, and San Juan rivers in N.M. and the Animas river in southern Col. I can't believe I fly fished the Rio Grande river--I only thought it was in Texas --it was truly a beautiful place to fish. We enjoyed floating the tail waters of the San Juan thanks to Joshua and the folks at Durangler's Outfitters.
We hooked plenty of really nice fish on the big fly shown in the picture.  We are truly blessed with a beautiful country--hope we can keep it that way.

Don't forget to "Tie 1 On'' Tue (Oct 5).



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Trout Unlimited Hosts Panel on Toccoa Tailwater

The Toccoa River Tailwater (below Blue Ridge Dam) is a premier trout fishery with enormous importance to the economic, social, and recreational well-being of Fannin County. *Trout fishing and the quality of water in the Toccoa is at risk of collapse as a result of a drawdown of Lake Blue Ridge so the TVA can make essential repairs to the dam and penstock. *Water temperatures and clarity are suffering, and the weather thus far is not cooperating. *The reason the river is in extremis is the timing of the protracted drawdown, which coincided with an unusually hot and dry summer and start to the fall season. * The full extent of damage to the fishery, if any, has yet to be determined. *However, it is not too soon to develop a plan for recovery of the river post-drawdown in order to minimize damage or improve the fishery.*​

No one doubts that the dam repairs were needed, and that the TVA carefully considered many factors in timing the drawdown, including weather patterns, safety, environmental impact, and the like, with input from the public and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. * The question is, however, where do we go from here if trout die and the fishery collapses? *This question and more will be answered in a public forum hosted by Blue Ridge Mountain Trout Unlimited at the Fannin Chamber of Commerce, 9 am, October 9, 2010. *Representatives of the TVA, DNR, Trout Unlimited, and the Chamber of Commerce will comprise a panel to discuss the immediate future of the Toccoa Tailwater and to answer questions from the audience. The purpose of this discussion is not to probe how, why, or when the drawdown was done or to criticize anyone in the process. *This meeting focuses on what can be done from this point forward to protect and restore the fishery.*​

Trout Unlimited is an organization dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and protection of coldwater (trout) fisheries like the Toccoa.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fish of the New Millenium

As I drove south on GA 400 before sunup on Monday morning, I found myself wondering why in the world I let Henry Cowen talk me into this.  Traffic was beginning to build as I cruised closer and closer to the epicenter of that alter-universe commonly known as Atlanta.  Who drives into Atlanta to fish when they have the southern Appalachians right out their back door?  It was a conundrum; I had no answer.  But Henry's Brooklyn accent was obviously dialed up an octave or two when he called to invite me down to try "the most challenging flyfishing you'll ever see."  Though I pulled into our appointed meeting place 10 minutes early, Henry was already there, checking all the details on his G3 shallow water boat like an airline captain before takeoff.

With Fall officially still two days away, there was no mistaking that Summer was fully in charge this day and my long sleeve shirt seemed like a mistake as we pushed off from the boat launch at Azalea Drive on the Chattahoochee River.  But the cold water that originated in the bottom of Lake Lanier provided a chilly air conditioned zone that hovered above the water as we were enveloped by the dense fog of early morning.  Henry's fleece jacket felt pretty good, even on the short ride downstream.  Quietly, we slipped into one of the many oxbow lakes lining the channel of the river and began scanning the surface for our quarry, the golden ghosts of the mud flats and the object of unwarranted derision in the fly fishing world.  CARP!

If you've ever been bonefishing or cast a fly to trophy reds in the saltwater marshes of the southeastern coast, you've experienced one of flyfishing's most challenging quarry.  And while these species garner well deserved recognition for being among the most difficult fish to catch on a fly, the unpretentious carp finds honor difficult to come by and is more likely to be the object of ridicule than respect.  That's because the vast majority of the criticism comes from anglers who have never tried to hook and land one of these guys. A humble attitude should be the first thing you pack when heading out for carp.  Otherwise, you'll come home mumbling to yourself.

We immediately began to spot fish and within the first five minutes I had cast to three different fish... to no avail.  With Henry on the poling platform at the back of the boat, and my eyes straining to pick up movement in the shallow water surrounding us, there was almost never a period when we weren't stalking a fish as they rooted around, occasionally waving their huge tails in the air, looking for aquatic insects and crustaceans.  Henry's instructions to me were to be able to quickly cast to a target the size of a paper plate 40 feet away and, if I missed by more than 6 inches, to immediately pick up and cast again.  My 7'11" Ross Essence 8 wt. with Sharkskin line should have been up to the task.  The big question being, "Am I up to it?"

The next two hours were about as much of an adrenalin rush as I've ever experienced in flyfishing.  It's like a big game hunt where you're stalking your prey in hopes of being good enough to make the shot when the opportunity presents itself.  I probably cast to 30 or 35 fish and got one to eat.  And that one was worth my trip.  In less than 10 inches of water, the big fish picked my fly from the silty cloud, made a huge boil as it swirled against the pressure of my hookset and took of like a scalded dog on an 80 foot run.  I slowly worked the fish back to the boat but it was in no mood to let Henry grab it's bottom lip.  After running under the boat and out the other side three times, almost pulling the rod out of my hands on every surge, we finally landed it.  It was not an easy chore.  All the while Henry has a sly grin on his face that said, "See, I told you so."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jake Darling

Jake has been hanging around the fly shop since he was knee-high to a gnat...we finally had to start letting him guide just to get him out of shop!  In addition to being a great guide, Jake helps run the Helen store - stop by and ask him about his nickname...and click here to read his bio over at our website.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Becky Strain

With David's recent mention of NCF opening back up, and with our other private trophy trout streams about to re-open for the season, I thought I'd take the opportunity to post some info on a few of our guides.  First up is Becky Strain - Becky guides a lot out at NCF, and in addition to being one of several FFF Certified Casting Instructors on our staff, she has won the Women's World Invitational Bonefish Tournament multiple times and holds an IGFA world record for bonefish on the fly.  Click here to read her bio over at the Unicoi Outfitters website.

Update on the Toccoa River Tailwater

Recently, Chad and I floated the river to see if we could still find fish in our favorite honey holes after the recent drawdown of Lake Blue Ridge. Unfortunately, I do not have a good report. It was strange not to see one fisherman on the river when a couple months ago you could see 20+ fly fishermen casting flies to feeding trout. At times, there was a unbearable smell. Large and vocal blue herons flew around us protecting their territories. I counted 6 herons in the small stretch we floated. Two dead trout were seen during the trip. I watched a few very lethargic trout which did not respond appropriately to me approaching them. It has been said most of the fish are probably being pushed down the river by generation or being eaten by predators are a couple reasons why we are not seeing large numbers of dead fish.

Temperatures of the Toccoa tailwater seem to remain around 76 degrees. Several reports of occassional dead fish. One customer stated he was able to pick a trout up by his hand at Tammen Park. The water continues to be muddy and have a stained appearance. A positive note is the decline of temperatures in the tributaries of the river so maybe some trout are seeking refuge there.

Since the rise of temperatures on the tailwater, David has decided not to book trips on the tailwater in hopes of preserving what fish are able to survive the lethal temperatures. So, we are not on the water. David and I appreciate folks coming into the shop giving us reports of the Toccoa tailwater. Please keep them coming! We are the only voice for our beloved Toccoa.

Not so long ago, David and I were casting to what seemed like hundreds of rising trout on our float down the river...looking to the future, Georgia DNR transformed the Toccoa tailwater into a tremendous fishery just in the past 5 or 6 years, and we're confident they can do it again once this is all said and done.  In the meantime, let's look forward to this fall's DH season on the upper Toccoa and to the tremendous fishing we expect on our private trophy streams in the coming year (and we have some new surprises in store for you!).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Noontootla Creek Farm is now Open!

After a long scorching summer, NCF is finally open to anglers again! Yesterday, I had the opportunity to take our Southeastern Simms Rep. Dave Chouinard over to sample some fishing on one of the South's best freestones. The trout were feeling good in the cooler water even though it was very low due to the drought. Dave caught this beautiful Brown trout on a hopper dropper combo along with several more nice fish coming to net. Luckily, we were not eaten by the black bear that left this track in the mud and compared to my fly reel he is a pretty big boy. Judging by the track, he's probably a 400 plus pounder. Our other private waters will be opening soon so grease up that elbow and come and get 'em!

Friday, September 3, 2010


I'm really looking forward to our fly tying session for Sept.

Tim Ivey is planning to be there and he will show us how to tie some of his small mouth patterns that he has success with. Tim has helped me a lot with different patterns and he has been a commercial tyer for quite a while.

This month's session has been changed from the 1st Tues to the 1st Mon--that will be the 6th at 6:00 PM at Unicoi Outfitters in Helen. I hope this is OK with those who usually attend.

The weather has really been great--what a blessing--a little more rain and a little cooler days and the fishing should be great. Let's get some flies tied for the fall fishing.

Remember, everyone is welcome, from beginners to experienced tyers and equipment will be available if you're just starting.

Thanks again to Unicoi for the use of their building and equipment.

We may even attempt to tie the fly in the picture.

"Tie flies when you're having fun! "



Lake Allatoona Topwater Starts Soon!

It looks like Henry Cowen's got some good fishing coming up the next couple months over on Allatoona:

Small stripers are the norm on Allatoona
Well guys and gals, I hope everyone had a nice summer. I know I could not wait for it to end. Fishing for me consisted of some river fishing for trout, striped bass and carp. I want to let everyone know what we are doing that is new and exciting. We will be fishing over on Lake Allatoona during Sept and Oct to take advantage of the tremendous top water bite that goes on over there. It is an absolute perfect fishery for flyrodders. There is a mix of small stripers, hybrids, spotted bass and white bass. Most of these fish average from 2-5lbs. It is an ideal 6 to 8 wt rod fishery. Best of all is the fact that Allatoona has no herring on it so all the bait is generally threadfin shad in the 1-3″ size. A dozen fish per man is very common when the fish are schooling. We can also accommodate the non-fly fishing angler as these fish can also be taken on lite spinning tackle. It is just great fun! I did a bit of this in June and really enjoyed it to the point where many of my customers want to take advantage of the pleasant weather and great fishing. We will be running 4 hour witching hour trips that cost $250 for up to 2 anglers. Fishing will either be a first light (6:45am-10:45am) or last light (4pm-8pm) deal. Just a nice way for 2 folks to affordably get into some fantastic action! All trips will be run out of my 16 1/2 foot G3 boat. As usual, we can supply all tackle if needed. Floating and intermediate lines are what is called for. We will start booking trips immediately and expect the fishing to kick in by Sept 15th and run thru end of Oct. See you on ”the other” pond. HC